Wishes and regrets grammar rules

Wishes and regrets with ‘I wish‘ and ‘If only…




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To express wishes and regrets in English, you can use the wish + preterite or if only + preterite formulas:

1 – Wish

Wish is used to express wish or regret in the present or past. Wish is followed by a preposition with a subject and a verb.

The verb wish is used to express wish or regret in the present or past tense. Wish is followed by a proposal with a subject and a verb:

  • I wish I knew the truth.

To express regret in the present

Wish + prerrit (modal) expresses a regret about the present. The desired thing has no chance of being realized. It may concern the speaker or another person:

  • I wish I was rich. 
  • I wish you didn’t get so upset about her. 

⚠️ If we use the verb be, we can use was or were, were being of a more sustained register:

  • I wish I was rich. /I wish I were rich.
  • I wish he wasn’t so bossy. 

To express regret in the past

Finally, we can also express regret about an event in the past. In this case, we use wish + past perfect:

  • I wish we had never come here. 
  • I wish he had told me the truth. 
  • I wish you hadn’t done that. 

To express a request or irritation

To express a request indirectly, to express a feeling of irritation or to talk about an event that has a chance of being realized, we use wish + would:

  • I wish you would taik to me more often. 
  • I wish somebody would answer the phone. 

To express a forecast or a wish:

Wish followed by the verb + to is similar to the verb ‘to want’ or ‘would like’, with an idea of forecasting in the future:

  • They wish to have five children. 
  • We wish to stay for four nights. 

You can also use ‘wish’ with a name to wish for an event:

  • We wish you a merry Christmas. 
  • I wish you a pleasant journey. 
  • I wish you a happy birthday. 

⚠️ ‘I wish to‘ can have the meaning of ‘ I want to‘ but it’s very formal and not used very often:

  • I wish to make a complaint. 
  • I wish to see the manager. 

2 – If only

If only + preterite allows you to express wishes in relation to an unreal situation:

  • If only I had a car. 
  • If only you came to see me more often. 
  • If only I could speak Spanish! 
  • If only you had told me before! 

With the verb be, we sometimes use the form were to all persons (mainly in writing):

  • If only I were / was richer. 
  • If only I weren’t / wasn’t so tall. 

To express regrets about a past situation, it’s necessary to use the perfect past instead of the priest:

  • If only they had come. 

3 – Little tip !

One can also express regret or reproach with should have + past participle:

  • We should have taken the bus.



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